For the first time, the elusive Marmots thriving in the Himalayan reaches have been captured in photographs. Although there were reports of sightings in Arunachal Pradesh, there were no images until now. Hiranmoy Chetia, a PhD scholar at Noida's Amity University, has been studying this species for the past four years, and his findings have appeared in The Journal of Threatened Taxa. Chetia spoke to Outlook Traveller about his journey to the village of Mago, and what it took to capture the Himalayan Marmots. &ldquoI went to Tawang, and from there, I left for Mago village via a place called Jang. Mago comes under the Thingbu tehsil of the district. At the time of my study, the road from Jang to Mago was incomplete. So I had to keep my bike at Jangda/Jhanda Point. From there, it is an hour-long trek to reach Mago. After reaching the village, I inquired about the animal, and the locals were very accommodating and gave me a lot of information," he said.
The village of Zithang is where he was finally able to spot the animal. &ldquoWe trekked for three to four hours to reach Zithang, which is a beautiful grassland surrounded by mountains. After reaching Zithang, we fixed a tent and waited. It was drizzling, and we had to wait about an hour before the marmots started coming out of the burrows. We spent the entire day documenting their activity," he said.
What are Marmots
Himalayan Marmots are rare ground squirrel species which have been previously sighted in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. Among the marmot family, Marmota himalayana is one of the largest, boasting a size akin to a house cat. Its appearance is adorned with dense, woolly fur, characterised by rufous grey tones on its back and rufous yellowish hues on its ears, belly, and limbs. This unique colouration sets it apart as a splendid resident of the Himalayan region. In the vast and diverse family of Sciuridae, which encompasses various squirrel species adapted to different habitats, the Marmotini tribe takes centre stage. Within this tribe, we find the burrow-dwelling ground species, including the majestic Himalayan Marmot. This tribe comprises an astonishing 95 species spread across 13 genera, each exhibiting its own remarkable traits and adaptations.
Spiritual Beliefs are Saving the Creature
The locals of Arunachal Pradesh call the creature "Gomchen Chikpa," with "Gomchen", meaning hermit, in the Dirang Monpa language. Intriguingly, the name stems from a belief held by the region's inhabitants, who practise Tibetan Buddhism. During the winter months, when these marmots hibernate and remain unseen, they are thought to be meditative within their burrows, akin to hermits immersed in deep contemplation. This spiritual connection to nature manifests in the local reverence for these gentle creatures, leading to harmonious coexistence. The inhabitants, honouring their religious beliefs, refrain from hunting or causing harm to the Himalayan Marmots, allowing them to thrive undisturbed.
Places Where They Are Found
Himalayan Marmots are found in several regions of India. They are primarily found in the higher elevations of the Himalayan mountain range, like the upper reaches of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, as their presence is primarily restricted to alpine meadows and rocky habitats at high altitudes. Some regions where there have been reports of sightings of these animals are as follows.
Ladakh The marmots are commonly sighted in the regions of Ladakh, including areas such as Leh, Nubra Valley, and Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.
Himachal Pradesh They are also found in parts of Himachal Pradesh, particularly in areas such as Spiti Valley, Lahaul Valley, and Pin Valley National Park.
Uttarakhand The Himalayan Marmots can be found in certain regions of Uttarakhand, such as the high-altitude areas of Gangotri National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park.
Sikkim Some populations of Himalayan Marmots can be found in parts of Sikkim, particularly in high-altitude areas such as Yumthang Valley and Lachung.
&ldquoArunachal Pradesh is a very ethnically diverse region, and almost all the communities live in harmony with nature. Different communities use squirrel species for different reasons like, rituals, preparation of ethnomedicines and, of course, for food,&rdquo said Chetia. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these unique species and their fragile habitats. Although they feature in the IUCN Red Listed as Least Concern because of their wide range and possibly large population, the ever-present threat to our environment threatens the creatures' habitat.
Explaining the relationship between the tribal communities and the squirrels, Chetia said, &ldquoYes, there is indeed hunting of squirrels in Arunachal Pradesh, and it is a concern regarding their population, but the locals are now very much concerned about the conservation of species. It's vital to educate the region's local communities about the significance of the species so that proper conservation efforts can be made.&rdquo
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